Remembering Desert Storm; Even a Small Contribution Was Important
By Gerald Sonnenberg
EES Marketing and Communication
On Jan. 16, we mark the 28th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, which was the beginning of combat operations to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait after their Aug. 2, 1990 invasion. I was an active duty “buck” sergeant in the Air Force at the time, and it was the first time any conflict like that had taken place since I enlisted. It turned out that I was not deployed with the more than 500,000 American Servicemembers who went overseas, and instead continued to do my job at home. That circumstance can stir a lot of emotions and thoughts about your role in the Nation’s defense. But a seemingly small incident happened that changed my whole outlook on military service.
I remember thinking when I was about 8 years old, war was just a game. It was just a child’s idea of battle, which I made more real because of my love of history. Like a lot of boys my age, I had an imagination capable of transforming a pine tree branch into a musket or a rock into a grenade. Coverage of the Vietnam War was always on TV during the nightly news, but I didn’t really understand what war meant to those who fought it, so I pictured casualties as being hard, plastic figures of men, molded into shape and knocked down by the end of my finger whenever I had the notion.
As I grew, so did my knowledge and understanding that war is sometimes necessary, but never welcome. The lives lost aren’t plastic or insignificant.
When my generation became involved in more than a child’s game on Jan. 16, 1991, I felt proud yet sad at the sight of fellow “baby boomers” marching to war as they were loaded onto countless transport aircraft to the sound of bands and the cheers and tears of crowds heading toward an unknown future.
My contribution to the war effort remained the same as it was before the fighting began. And, I was thankful that I was able to support a Nation I loved and still be able to be home with my wife and kids, when so many others could not. Yet I felt like many other military personnel who were outside of the “war zone.” It’s sort of like being on the sidelines during the big game and wishing there was more I could do to help. I wanted to get in the game. I wanted to feel like I was a part of what was happening to my country’s men and women across the sea and to know that my fellow Americans supported all of us, no matter where we were or what we did in the defense of our Nation.
Three weeks into Desert Storm, when stopping for something to drink on my long drive home, I discovered the support for which I had been looking for at the time. I pulled into a convenience store off the highway. Tired, I went in thinking only of filling a cup full of iced tea and getting home. I went up to the counter, drink in hand, and asked the employee behind it what I owed her.
“Is that all for you today?” she asked.
I said, “Yes.”
Before I could pull out a dollar bill, she looked at my uniform and said with a smile, “You’re in the military.”
“Yes,” I said.
“OK. Have a good day.”
Suddenly, I felt even though I wasn’t flying planes or carrying a rifle, my small contribution was important. I felt better because I was getting a free drink from someone who wasn’t old enough to remember America’s past conflicts, and who displayed a sort of patriotic glow reminiscent of the looks I had seen in the faces of Veterans of World War II as they discussed their exploits during the war.
I smiled and said thank you, and began to turn when I heard her young, smiling and seemingly grateful voice say something that made me feel as though I had single-handedly defeated an armored brigade or captured the first enemy prisoner of war.
“No!” she corrected me, “Thank you.”
In our efforts to care for Veterans in VA, we all have a contribution to make, so I say thank you to all VA staff, no matter what that job may entail, for your service toward the overall care of our Nation’s Veterans.